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Women innovators vital for biggest engineering challenges

The number of women coming into engineering professions is growing and they are bringing crucial skills needed to tackle the biggest global challenges, according to the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA). 

Women now make up 16.5% of the UK’s engineering workforce compared to just 10.5% in 2010; and the number of women working in engineering roles rose to 936,000 from 562,000, according to research carried out by EngineeringUK. 

Their growing influence is being celebrated during International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June which is organised by the Women’s Engineering Society(WES) and is celebrating its 9th anniversary.  

The profile provided by INWED is still vital despite the rising numbers because women remain hugely under-represented in many engineering professions, according to WES.  As the only platform of its kind, it plays a vital role in encouraging more young women and girls to take up engineering careers.  

This year it will be celebrating the inspirational work that women engineers around the world are doing to support lives and livelihoods every day, the organisers said. 

BESA has been an enthusiastic supporter of this initiative since its inception and is mirroring this year’s theme of celebrating women inventors and innovators who are helping to build towards a brighter future in its own activities 

It is promoting the importance of women in engineering through its special Women in Building Services Award, which was set up to recognise the outstanding women working in the sector – with particular emphasis on their contribution to sustainability and innovation.  The Association will be celebrating a truly inspiring person who champions the sector and who drives positive change at its National Awards event on 20 October in London. 

That evening will also see the presentation of its first ever award for Diversity and Inclusion. This has been established to reward those companies who have shown the greatest commitment to recruiting, advancing, and supporting all employees regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, or disability. 

In the build up to INWED 2022, BESA is also publishing a series of guest blogsfrom prominent women in engineering on its website. This will help to promote the range of exciting careers open to women in building services, but BESA also believes that greater diversity across the sector depends on having more women in leadership and mentoring roles.  

Its own commercial, finance, marketing, training, and legal directors are all female – and the director of certification, which plays a crucial role in the development of professional and technical standards for the building services sector, is also a woman.  

“Thousands of words have been written about the barriers to gender equality, but it is only through concrete action that real change can happen,” said Kirsty Cogan, BESA’s managing director of commercial services. 

“For engineering, which is suffering from a growing skills shortage, to be, in effect, recruiting from just half of the available workforce seems crazy,” she added. “There are amazing career opportunities for women and girls in our industry, but gender stereotypes still hold sway and, as a result, our businesses are missing out.” 

While the roles inside a trade body cannot be described as ‘pure’ engineering, BESA’s gender balance does allow it to influence the diversity discussion across the sector and help to guide members’ recruitment policies. It is also important for a major industry body to practice what it preaches, it says. 

and commercial director Debbie Petford pointed out that most of the barriers that might have prevented or discouraged women from entering engineering professions were coming down. 

“The adoption of modern methods of working and the emergence of Big Data and digital design techniques, along with the rapid advancement of building services technology, mean the sector desperately needs more talented young people with new skills and from a much wider background. 

“And it is these same advances that are also making it easier for women to gain access to technical and leadership roles – we need to build on that,” she said. 

BESA’s guest bloggers for INWED are living proof that the building engineering industry offers great opportunities to contribute to the important issues of today like climate change and building safety.  

By increasing awareness of the way women are leading the sector, the Association is aiming to help narrow the engineering skills gap and create a workforce that better reflects the society the industry serves. 

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